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Building a stronger Southwest Minnesota... together

BUSINESS PROFILE: Southwest Initiative Foundation

With rolling prairies, the historic Minnesota River Valley, and some of the richest farmland in the world, southwest Minnesota is unique. This region is a special place with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, high-quality schools and early childhood supports, and high civic engagement and volunteerism. But what really makes this place feel like home are the people – caring neighbors, family, friends, and colleagues – that bring feelings of love, warmth and belonging.

For 36 years, Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) has been “growing home” in southwest Minnesota. Born from the farm crisis in 1986, the foundation was created to keep the region strong and vibrant.

Vice President of Philanthropy Liz Cheney visits with Bob Thurston (left), Southwest Initiative Foundation donor and former board member, and Randy Reinke (right), Southwest Initiative Foundation donor and board member, at a social event hosted by SWIF this summer in Willmar. Contributed photo

The foundation has an eye toward the future. It’s what Liz Cheney loved when she started working there over 18 years ago, and what she loves today in her role as vice president of philanthropy. December is one of the busiest months of the year for Cheney and her team – and for nonprofits around the region.

“This season of giving is my favorite time of year, a time that includes reflection and gratitude. And yes, year-end gifts to charity, too. Gifts made by donors during this time are crucial to local organizations being able to continue their good work,” Cheney said.

SWIF is an independent community foundation with a mission to connect people, invest in ideas, and build communities. This means organizing and supporting community leaders, investing in businesses, supporting local nonprofits, helping organizations grow and improve, processing gifts and grants, sharing southwest Minnesota stories and promoting the region, said Cheney.

Bordering South Dakota and Iowa, the foundation’s region includes Big Stone, Chippewa, Cottonwood, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Renville, Rock, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties, and Native nations Caŋṡayapi Oyate (Lower Sioux Community) and Peżuhutazizi Oyate (Upper Sioux Community).

The generous support from the people, businesses, and organizations that care about southwest Minnesota is what makes the foundation’s work possible, said Cheney, who leads resource development at SWIF. This includes fundraising strategies to fuel SWIF’s mission, giving to affiliate community foundations and local fund partnerships, and helping people make future gifts through estate planning.

Southwest Initiative Foundation has added many new initiatives in the past 36 years, like gatherings across the region that help build belonging to support vibrant, welcoming communities our kids need to succeed. In Glencoe, kids enjoy coloring with chalk at a Welcoming Week celebration this fall. Contributed photo

In her work, Cheney has experienced how much people truly care about their neighbors and their communities, and she helps people knit that “care” together through charitable giving that reflects their values. The best year-end giving plans not only make good happen in community, but they can also improve an individual’s financial or tax situation—often right away, she said.

“Giving can be a powerful way to support the causes and places most important to you and at the same time wisely manage your own resources. It also makes the work of Southwest Initiative Foundation possible, allowing us to support families, businesses and communities who call southwest Minnesota home,” Cheney said.

SWIF has a variety of tools to help people give back. A current gift of cash may offer an income tax deduction, while a gift of appreciated stock eliminates capital gains tax. A Qualified Charitable Distribution from an IRA allows people to give tax-free from an individual retirement account and reduces taxable income because the distribution counts toward their required minimum distribution. SWIF also has options for leaving a legacy through estate planning, as well as a unique farmland giving program that allows gifted land to stay in production by local farmers.

In April 2022, SWIF partnered with FreeWill, an online resource that allows individuals to write a legally valid will for free. Estate planning helps people protect their family and friends, plan beneficiaries for their assets, and support the causes and communities they love.

“Less than 70 percent of Americans have a will, but almost everyone needs one. It’s easy to put off, it’s intimidating, and it can be expensive. I am excited that SWIF’s partnership with FreeWill will allow more people to have access to estate planning, so that they can care for loved ones and their community,” Cheney said.

Since SWIF’s founding in 1986, the foundation has invested nearly $107 million. Last fiscal year, $6.6 million in grants was invested to support what our kids and their families need to succeed, and $2.5 million was disbursed to bolster economic growth and vibrant communities. Behind these big numbers are stories, neighbors, experiences, and life-changing impact.

Grants from Southwest Initiative Foundation and our affiliate partner the Litchfield Area Community Foundation helped launch Rise + Roam, which opened in November 2020. Rise + Roam is an indoor play space that fosters play, movement, and connection that aids in the development of young children and the adults in their lives. Contributed photo

SWIF’s work has changed over decades as the foundation flexes, innovates and becomes what communities and the region need it to be. In 2016, the foundation launched a 10-year strategy called Grow Our Own to align resources, build momentum, and close the opportunity gap for kids in southwest Minnesota by investing in the people and systems that surround them. Today, a big part of that work includes helping communities ensure that all people feel a sense of belonging. SWIF believes that communities are strongest when all people can fully participate in the region’s opportunities and feel like this is a place where they can thrive.

“Today, we see the opportunity to bring together our history of looking forward, our experience working in the community, and our learning about what all people need to succeed. The year-end gifts people make inspire, create and activate hope in the future of southwest Minnesota. A special place to grow up and grow old together,” Cheney said.

To learn more about Southwest Initiative Foundation, visit Tax-deductible gifts can be made online at to support Southwest Initiative Foundation’s mission or a community foundation partner. Gifts can also be mailed to 15 3rd Avenue NW, Hutchinson, MN 55350.

To qualify for a 2022 charitable tax deduction, mailed gifts must be postmarked by Dec. 31, and online gifts must be submitted before midnight on Dec. 31. Have questions or want to talk about the options? Liz Cheney can be reached at 320-583-5025 or

This is a paid business profile. If you would like to learn more about promoting your business in the Sr. Perspective with a business profile, call Jim at 320-334-3344.

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